Friday, March 22, 2013

Blow Torch Architecture

People pay big bucks for new things- new cars, new houses, new faces and new spouses.  It seems the appreciation for things that show their age has declined.  In one instance we were looking to give materials an old world look.

Mennonite Central Committee’s training center was a unique experience.  Everyone on the design and building team had to be trained to “get it”.  Team members were sent to Egypt and India in order to give them an appreciation for the lifestyle of missionaries as well as the landscape in which the people we were designing for were to be immersed.  As a result of this trip, we spent a lot of time trying of figure out how to make something look old or weathered, or even cheap.

This had many incarnations, such as applying paint to the walls with rags to give them a modeled appearance, experimenting with stained concrete floors, and having a local metal worker make some of the door hardware.

One activity really stuck out in my mind and it was the brilliant idea of the superintendent on site, Dave.  We used a lot of reclaimed lumber on the job for everything from doors to stair treads.  The thing about reclaimed lumber is that is has a surface patina that takes decade of dirt and oxidation to create.  The trick is how you deal with the cut edges because they look like freshly sawn lumber – a stark contrast to the look we were going for.

Somehow Dave knew how to deal with this.  Even though he had not gone on the trip to the two Continents and didn’t see any of the presentations the design team made to the Owner’s Board, Dave always “got it”.  He took it upon himself to treat the cut ends of the reclaimed lumber with a blow torch.  With just the right amount of acetylene and artistic flair, one can burn a patina into freshly cut wood.  Even if you were looking for it, it was difficult to see which ends were cut last week, and which had been cut last century.

Dave had done his part in contributing to the overall aesthetic (he contributed in many other ways, too), by pulling a non-tradition trick out of his bag.  I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to practice “blow torch architecture” in the future, but believe me, I am ready.

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